Acahya tapped angrily at the flat-panel display, dismissing yet another notification. She didn’t even read them any more—they were all the same. Stock prices this, investment shares that, news about import and export tariffs, updates on small insurgencies that were assured to fail. Exasperatingly sitting with her head in her hand inside a luxurious apartment, within a self-contained arcology—of which she was a co-owner—made up of a thousand such units, inside the irradiated border territory of old-world France and Germany, on a continent more than 10,000 klicks away from her home, she wondered just how she got so far away from her roots.

A career defined by toppling corporate interests and the occasional whole government—and to her there wasn’t often a difference—had been enormously lucrative, and clients were now willing to pay six figures or more for her involvement in their endeavors. Corporations had attempted to headhunt her, as much to protect their own assets as to damage their competition’s, but the only replies they received to their mealy-worded inquiries was another plant or manufacturing facility blown up or suffering “catastrophic malfunction.” She was not for sale. Ideology guided her actions, the money just allowed her to invest in others with the same mindset.

Rebel and anarchist groups had sought her out as well, on both sides of the Atlantic, her involvement with which necessitated a permanent base of operations on European soil, far from her native Aztlan. Most of them weren’t worth her attention—not because she didn’t believe in their causes, but because they were neither organized nor funded enough to make appreciable strides against the corporations which ruled day-to-day life for so many. She only had so much attention and so much time—she had to be particular about what groups she could invest in. For some, her mere involvement would garner more corporate attention than they could afford, and so she had to decline them for their own sake, no matter how valiant or righteous their aims.

Pushing away from the desk, she stood and stretched as she walked to the window. Triple-paned bullet-proof glass ensured remnants of the toxic fallout which once pervaded the region wouldn’t make its way in, and that any hostile “extraction teams” would have a very difficult time getting to her, or to any of her noted partners. All of them had made names for themselves since their communal fleeing from Los Angeles so many months and years ago. Among their number was one of the world’s most preeminent scholars of magical theory, hackers with the aim—and quite possibly the skill—to create the world’s first true AI, and others who had proven themselves time and time again, either when the drek hit the fan while on-mission or in their character when choosing which jobs to take and causes to fight for in the first place. All of their particular talents were in high demand.

Looking out at the desolate hills of the “special administrative zone” erected after a terrorist attack melted a nuclear power plant in the early twenty-first century, she was proud of the progress her team—along with the scores of scientists, researchers, and magicians hired for the purpose—had made, cleansing the area and allowing nature to return. It wasn’t ready to flourish, but every day saw the fallout pushed just a little farther back, brought new life where before there had been only miasma on both the physical and astral planes. Its desolation and remoteness reminded her of the Sonoran desert of her childhood, far away from the bright lights and unbridled greed of the corporate cities which dotted the landscape. Maybe that’s what compelled her to stay, she mused, the very real chance to heal a part of Earth ruined and then abandoned by society. The opportunity to revitalize something corporations thought worthless, to show them how wrong they were.

Not a bad metaphor for her entire career, she thought.

Another alert dinged from the workstation and her commlink buzzed at her hip. Shutting her eyes in frustration, she clenched her jaw as the reality of how bureaucratic her life had become intruded upon her ideological train of thought. It had been two months since she herself had been out in the field, directly affecting change—meaning striking blows against corporate interests in order to cripple their ability to hamstring the growing anarchist movement in Berlin. She had spent much of that time meditating, delving into the mysterious realms deep within the ebbs and flows of magic, strengthening her connection to the spirits of the world, but she had spent even more time negotiating contracts for others to fulfill, managing personnel, and looking for opportunities for different groups—some back in the Americas, some in Europe—to take advantage of. She spent almost all of her time behind a desk, staring at screens.

Running her good hand through her long hair—her right arm wasn’t ever the same after taking a sniper’s bullet to the shoulder while fighting to free the peoples of Puerto Rico—she shook her head. She knew she was affecting change on a much greater level than ever before, that she was inspiring more people and providing resources to freedom fighters across the globe in ways she never could as a solo operative, but that didn’t mean she didn’t lament that she wasn’t out there herself, putting her talents to their best use. She wasn’t a bureaucrat either by nature or by education; most of what she knew on the subject she picked up along the way. She was a revolutionary, a jaguar, who defended the good and honest people of the world from the faceless corporate monsters who would enslave them. That was her passion, and her ideals had never changed since the day they stole her family.

A muffled knock at the heavy door to her quarters broke her from her reverie. Most people in the arcology—even her partners who had been with her through so much—didn’t bother her “at home;” her naturally acerbic nature and penchant for dryly dismissing people when she became bored with the topic at hand had earned her quite a reputation, both professionally and personally.

Prince—one of the original crew with whom Acahya stole a luxury yacht, which began their long run as professional pirates along Baja and in the Caribbean both—poked his head in. He had shared a cabin with her on the ship, and so knew her the best out of anyone else on the crew. He liked technology and was keen to use it to bolster his natural gifts, much as she used magic for the same. They didn’t exactly understand one another’s worlds, but they respected the commitment each had to it.

“Hey, did you see the message?” he asked with a questioning shrug, stepping into the doorframe.

She rolled her eyes at him and frowned, snorting with irritation.

“Acahya, we have a job. Something big’s going down, and they want us.” He gestured to the both of them.

She noticed he was wearing his tactical gear. Her lips twisted into a predatory grin as she stepped toward her wardrobe, where her armoured business dress was stored.

“It’s about time.”

He cocked his head. “Do you want to know the details first?”

She shook her head dismissively. “Tell me on the way.”

This story continues the adventures of Acahya and her shadowrunning crew, as introduced in Team Dynamics, expanded on in ¡Viva Aztlán!, more fully revealed in Plumbing the Depths, triumphing in The Seeds of Revolution, recovering in A Piece of the Dream Americana, and drawing on powerful forces in Smoke Under Water.

Header image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay, a great resource for royalty-free stock images.